Rock expecting huge physical intensity from Tyrone
By John Harrington
There’s one thing that Dean Rock knows for sure about Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC Final against Tyrone – it’s going to hurt.
He can still feel the memory of the hard-hitting All-Ireland Quarter-Final the two teams contested six weeks ago in his bones, and he’s expecting another physically attritional battle this time around.
“That game in Omagh, I particularly remember how physical it was,” said Rock. “Lads were obviously very sore after that game so I'm sure that's how it's going to set itself out in the Final.
“Guys will tell you, sometimes you don't feel as sore after certain games but that was a game where there were lots of sore bodies after.
“It took a while for guys to recover. We had two weeks between that and the Roscommon game which was great because lots of lads obviously needed it.
“Tyrone just play with such a huge intensity and they bring that on every occasion so that's something we're going to have to prep for over the next couple of weeks.”
Because Dublin are such consummate footballers, their sheer toughness is sometimes disregarded.
When you watch them play in Croke Park it’s difficult to appreciate just how hard they hit in the tackle because you’re so relatively far from the action perched in the upper deck of the Hogan Stand.
But in the more intimate venue of Healy Park you couldn’t but be struck by just how physical they were in contact.
In fairness to Tyrone, they were no less ferocious themselves in the tackle, and that’s why they’re better equipped than most teams currently to put it up to the reigning All-Ireland Champions.
The reason Mayo were closer to Dublin in recent years than anyone else is because they could compete with them physically, and Tyrone are cut from the same cloth.
Unlike Mayo though, they have more options on the bench who are capable of making a big impact when they’re thrown into the fray.
By now we’re accustomed to Dublin’s subs running riot in the closing minutes of a match, but when the teams met in Omagh it was Tyrone’s bench that had the bigger impact as they cut a six point deficit down to two at one stage.
“That's a massive strength of theirs, the strength of their squad, there's guys coming in towards the end of their games,” said Rock.
“You saw it against Donegal and Monaghan, they're finishing games really strongly and they've got 21 or 22 guys there who are chomping at the bit to come on.
“When they are coming on they make a massive impact, similar enough to our guys in that respect.”
As tough a test as Tyrone gave Dublin in Omagh, Jim Gavin’s team still looked a level above them.
What was most impressive about their performance that evening was the patience they showed to hold onto possession as they pulled the tightly packed Tyrone defence this way and that until they finally created a clear scoring opportunity.
They hit just four wides on the night, and it was that greater economy, accuracy, and patience in the opposition half that ultimately proved the difference on the night.
“There's always going to be opportunities in games,” said Rock. “Some games you get more opportunities than others.
“You've just got to be real present in your mindset and just make sure that every play counts. If you're not on the ball you're trying just to make sure that someone else can get on the ball.
“That's what it's all about, just trying to be as present as you can on the field and try and make the guy beside you look better. That might mean that you don't get the ball but someone else gets the ball because of your hard work.
“There's lots of work you can do when you're not on the ball for the team. That's why I say you're always trying to be present and mindful to do what you can for the guy beside you to look better.
“Our scoring percentages have been quite good over the last number of games.
“When we do get opportunities like that guys are executing which is the most pleasing thing at the end of those moves.”
It’s one thing having the game-plan to patiently probe for openings in the opposition half by holding onto possession, it’s another thing entirely executing it.
Tyrone put huge pressure on the Dublin ball carriers in that match in Omagh, but they still struggled to force turnovers because Dublin’s hand-passing and kick-passing was so accurate.
They make a point of working constantly on those basic skills and that’s why they make them look so effortless.
More often than not, you can trace a vital Dublin score pack to a perfectly weighted sequence of hand-passes, such as Con O’Callaghan’s goal in the All-Ireland semi-final which was preceded by two surgical hand-passes from Jack McCaffrey and Niall Scully.
“It's a thing Jim has always gone after and preached,” said Rock. “Us as players individually we've all gone and tried to work on our craft and work on our skills to make sure that in the high-pressure situations you can execute correctly.
“Whether it's free-kicks, hand-passing, a solo or whatever the basics are. We go after it in training and when you see moves like that (O'Callaghan's goal against Galway) it shows that you're doing the right things. That's what it's all about.”
Tyrone are capable of going toe to toe with Dublin on Sunday and giving them as good as they get in the physical stakes just like they did in Omagh.
Less certain is their ability to match Dublin’s pure skill, which could well be the variable that decides this match-up once more.